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Defining a Unitary Business: An Economist's View

Charles E. McLure, Jr.

NBER Working Paper No. 1125 (Also Reprint No. r0472)
Issued in May 1983
NBER Program(s):Public Economics Program

The definition of a unitary business has figured prominently in several recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of state corporate income taxes. This paper employs economic analysis to frame a three part test of whether a unitary business exists. Underlying the tests is the notion that a unitary business exists when separate accounting can not satisfactorily isolate the profits of individual firms. The first test is common control. The second is whether transfer prices on transactions within the group could be manipulated or are diificult to verify or substantial vertical integration, shared costs,economies of scale or scope, or other forms of economic interdependence make isolation of profits of affiliated firms impossible.The third test is one of substantiality.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1125

Published: McLure, Charles E. Jr. "Defining a Unitary Business: An Economist's View." The State Corporation Income Tax: Issues in Worldwide Unitary Combination,edited by Charles E. McLure, Jr., pp. 89-124. StaStanford: Hoover Institution Press, (1984).

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